This spring we bought our first Livestock Guardian Dog, a 13 week old Great Pyrenees puppy. In this blog, I share my favorite resources I found and what we considered when choosing a breed, breeder, and gender.
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As with everything on the farm, adding a new animal or starting a new project requires LOTS of research. When we decided we wanted a guardian for our goat herd, there were a lot of decisions to be made. First we had to choose what type of animal guardian we wanted. I outline the options we looked into and why we landed on a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) in this post.
Once we decided on dog, these are the first questions I wanted to answer to find the actual puppy and where I directed my initial research.
How many LGDs do we need?
Will we get multiple or one at a time?
What gender LGDs are best?
What breed do we want?
Don't miss my roundup of the best resources I found when doing my research into LGDs and Great Pyrenees puppies. All of them are listed at the bottom of this post!
HOW MANY LGDS DO YOU NEED?
I found that the number of Livestock Guardian Dogs you need doesn't really depend on the number of animals you have or the amount of land you have, but rather, your predator load and the kinds of predators your have. LGDs work as a team to defend your herd from predators, usually one will move the stock into a safe place and guard them while another dog (or more) will warn, run off, or attack the predator(s).
Some people have large predators like bears and mountain lions that may need more guardians and some may simply have a ton of predators around that their stock needs protecting against. For us, we do not have a huge predator load. We don't have a ton of land so there are houses and people nearby, plus our goat pen share a fence with horses (and even a zebra) on two sides. Our main predators are foxes, coyotes and dogs. For this reason, we only need the minimum number of LGDs, two.
LGDs need companionship to not be lonely, and like I mentioned before, work as a team to ward off predators. It is HIGHLY recommended that if you get a LGD, you get at least two. Unlike other guardian animals, like llamas and donkeys, LGDs will not be less likely to bond with their charges if you have multiple. It has been bred into these dogs for centuries to bond to and protect stock.
SHOULD YOU GET ONE OR MULTIPLE LGDS AT A TIME?
There are differing opinions on whether to get two LGDs at a time or one. The argument for two at a time is that they have companionship from the get go and have each other to play with, minimizing the risk that they will play and get too rough with their charges. The downside to two at a time (as puppies) is littermate syndrome. Littermate syndrome is when the puppies pay so much attention to each other early on, that they do not bond with the stock as well, and therefore are not as interested in protecting them. Unlike the name suggests, the puppies do not have to be actual littermates for this to be a concern -- it can happen to any two puppies regardless of whether or not they are related. Another downside -- you are training two puppies at once. Training LGDs is a lot of work, requires a lot of time and a vigilant eye.
We decided to get one LGD puppy at a time. This is the first time we are training an LGD and wanted to make sure we do this right and set up the puppy for success. We wanted to focus just on one dog, train him as well as we can and then use him to help us train the next puppy, once he is totally mature (about 18 months to 2 years old). This does mean that he will be the only LGD on our farm for about 18 months so we are intentional about spending time with him and watching him to make sure he is happy and developing well. Because we are a hobby farm and have a small goat herd, we have the time to spend with him.
WHAT GENDER COMBINATION FOR LGDS ARE BEST?
Again, there is a lot of differing opinions on this topic (as for most livestock related questions). I am outlining what went into our decision, but ultimately, you should do your research, hear arguments from all sides, and make the decision that works best for you and your situation.
We are not planning to breed LGDs, so our choices were two females, a fixed male and a female, or two fixed males. After researching online and asking some of my farmer friends, we eliminated two females as an option. Overwhelmingly, people recommended against this as the females are territorial and often get in spats and fights with each other as adults. Two males can also be territorial and get in fights with each other, though this seems less common than two females. We decided we want to ultimately have a male and female.
So which one should we get first -- boy or girl? We started with a male puppy so that we can leave him intact for a year or two so he can fully grow and develop to be a healthy big dog. We didn't want to worry about accidental puppies if we had a boy pup growing up with an adult female. So we started with boy, Weller.
WHAT BREED LGD TO GET?
There are so many amazing Livestock Guardian Dog breeds; some of the most common in America are Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, and Maremmas. There really is not a wrong answer to this as long as the dog is 100% LGD. These breeds have instincts bred into them over hundreds of years, so it is super important to get either a pure-bred LGD or ones that are intentionally mixed LGD-to-LGD breeds. For example, a Great Pyrenees-Anatolian mix should still make a fantastic LGD because its full bloodline is passing on the instinct to protect its charges. A Great Pyrenees-Australian Shepherd mix however, is breeding a LGD with a herding dog -- not a suitable mix for a LGD because it has conflicting instincts to chase its stock and guard and protect it.
The most common breeds in our area, and therefore the easiest reputable breeders to find, are Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherd. Anatolians are great for large predator loads because they are a bit more aggressive than the other two. Great Pyrenees are famous for being great with people and kids, while still doing their job to protect their stock. We decided on a Great Pyr because we have young nieces and nephews and have family visit a lot. We wanted an LGD that would be safe around children and familiar people.
HOW TO FIND A BREEDER
Finding a reputable breeder is super important to make sure you are getting a healthy pup that has great genes and is exposed to livestock from their first moments of life. My advice is to ask around to farmers in your are if they know any breeders they suggest; you can also look online and read reviews, but I prefer a recommendation from someone I know and trust. We found the LGD breeder where we got Weller through the farm where we bought our first Nubian goats.
Make sure the puppies are exposed to livestock right after their born and live around working LGDs.
BONUS if they live with and around the same type of stock you have (this is especially important if you want them to guard chickens, as this isn't quite as natural of an instinct for them as guarding small hoof stock)
It is great if the breeder picks the puppy that fits your needs best instead of letting you pick from the litter. After all, they spend every day with the puppies and know their personalities better than you would after a quick visit.
Make sure you like the breeder and feel that she would be willing to answer as many questions as you ask before or after you get your puppy. Good breeders want to make sure their pups are going to good farms, whose owners know what they are doing (or are dedicated to finding out).
So that is how we found Weller! He is growing up great and I have no doubt he will make a wonderful guardian for our goats when he is fully mature in about a year.
MY FAVORITE RESOURCES FOR LEARNING ABOUT GETTING A LGD PUPPY:
Great Pyrenees as Livestock Guardian Dogs from Well's Providence
Other amazing articles from Well's Providence
The Training of a Livestock Guardian Dog from The Paleo Mama
Training Livestock Guardian Dogs: The Ultimate Guide from For Love of Livestock
Keep reading our LGD story; how we chose a guardian for our goat herd.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
What breed LGD do you have or want? Tell me in the comments.